Back to Mackintosh's Lament
MACKINTOSH'S LAMENT. Scottish, Pibroch (6/8 or 3/4 time, "very slow"). A Mixolydian (for fiddlers; it is played by pipers in the key of D). Scordatura (AEac#). AABB'CCDDEEGGGGHHII. This pibroch (originally a bagpipe tune) was supposed to have been written in the year 1526; Johnson states it is still part of the pipe repertory today. It was one of the tunes Niel Gow played for Robert Burns when the latter visited him at his home in Inver, Dunkeld, in October 1787.
Nigel Gatherer found the following passage in an old book called The Fiddle in Scotland (n.d.) by Alexander G. Murdoch, from an account by Peter Stewart, who accompanied Niel Gow during the Burns visit:
Arriving at Dunkeld, [Burns]...put up at the principal inn...[He] was
fortunate in making the acquaintance of Dr Stewart, an enthusiastic
amateur violin player. At the dinner table he quoted to his guests the
well-known local ditty-
. Dunkeld it is a little toon,
. An' lies intil a howe;
. An' if ye want a fiddler loon,
. Spier ye for Niel Gow.
Burns expressed much delight at the proposal...a visit was at once agreed to.
The greeting was a cordial one on both sides, and the meeting of Burns and Gow - both geniuses of the first order in their respective lines - was mutually worthy of each other. The magician of the bow gave them a selection of north-country airs mostly of his own spirited composition. The first tune was "Loch Erroch Side" which greatly delighted the poet, who long afterwards wrote for the same melody his touching lyric "Oh, stay, sweet warbling woodlark, stay!"
At Burns's request, Niel next gave them his pathetic "Lament for Abercairney" and afterwards one of the best-known compositions in the Highlands, "McIntosh's Lament". "Tullochgorum" was also duly honoured, after which the whole party adjourned to the little old-fashioned inn at Inver, where there was a famous deoch, or parting friendly drink.
The melody and numerous variation sets printed by Capt. Robert Riddell in 1794 are different than Malcolm MacDonald's tune, as noted by Riddell: "This Highland Tune was here put down, as a speciman of this kind of Music, it differs from a set, formerly printed, in a Valuable Collection."
Source for notated version: Macdonald's 1784 Highland Vocal Airs, p. 40 [Johnson].
Printed sources: Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1984; No. 56, pp. 134-135. Riddell (Collection of Scotch Galwegian Border Tunes), 1794; pp. 32-33.
Recorded sources: Greentrax CDTRAX 9009, Donald MacDonell (1888-1967) - "Scottish Tradition 9: The Fiddler and his Art" (1993).